The "gods of guilt" is more than a phrase that attorney Mickey Haller — best known as the Lincoln Lawyer — likes to say when referring to a jury's verdict. It refers to the judgments that people make about others on a daily basis, questioning their motives and dissecting their actions.
But Mickey also grapples with his personal gods of guilt, knowing that sometimes being a good attorney has a price.
Michael Connelly delivers a compelling, suspense-laden plot that accelerates at high speed from the first page in his fifth outing with Mickey. The Gods of Guilt stretches the legal thriller's boundaries, making the novel as much of a character study about a very flawed man haunted by the fact that doing his job well can have fatal reverberations.
Connelly includes the de rigueur courtroom scenes and focus on legal ethics, but Gods of Guilt also works as a novel about unbridled ambition and the greed for recognition.
Mickey's practice has taken a turn for better, so he no longer has to rely on foreclosure cases. Personally, Mickey has become estranged from his daughter, whom he deeply loves. The teenager wants nothing to do with her father ever since a client he got off killed a family in a horrific car accident.
But a new case requires all of Mickey's attention. Tech-savvy pimp Andre La Cosse is accused of murdering Giselle Dallinger, a prostitute who worked for him. But the case turns personal when Mickey learns that Giselle's real name was Gloria Dayton, a former client he tried to help.
From the start, the evidence points away from Andre and toward a bigger conspiracy. Mickey galvanizes his team of investigators to sort through Gloria's life and determine why she didn't make a new start as she had told Mickey she would. As Mickey prepares his case, he wonders whether his own actions years before somehow led to Gloria's death.
Connelly keeps the tension high as he leads The Gods of Guilt on an edgy, labyrinthine path through Mickey's psyche and the streets of Los Angeles. Connelly shows the daily grind of a law practice as well as the excitement of a big case.
Connelly also gives a little wink at the reader by referencing Mickey's debut in his novel The Lincoln Lawyer and the 2011 movie that starred Matthew McConaughey. Now so many attorneys copy Mickey's office setup in the back seat of a Lincoln that he often gets into the wrong car. These bits of humor don't detract from the serious plot; they add a bit of much-needed levity.
Longtime Connelly readers know that Mickey is the half-brother of L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch, the lead character in another of the author's series. Connelly acknowledges this relationship by having Harry make about four brief but important appearances.
But The Gods of Guilt belongs to Mickey, who is as complicated as Bosch. A combination of cynic and optimist, Mickey believes in the law but is not above manipulating it. He wants to do good and be a good man, but fears he can do neither. He knows that sometimes the aftermath of his work results in a personal guilt that he can never shake.
It almost has become a clichè for me to add that each novel shows why Connelly continues to be one of the best — and most consistent — living crime writers. The Gods of Guilt hands down that verdict again.
'The Gods of Guilt'
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown. 416 pages. $28.